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This winter’s El Niño could be one of the strongest in 70 years. What does it mean for Illinois?

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(NEXSTAR) – The 2023-2024 El Niño is growing more likely to be one for the record books.

In an update released Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center said this winter’s El Niño was slightly favored to be “historically strong.” The national forecasters gave it about a 54% chance of being one of the five strongest since 1950.


‘Strong’ El Niño winter coming: Here’s where we could see more snow

Those odds are up from last month, when the Climate Prediction Center gave this year’s El Niño a 35% chance of being among the strongest ever, like the one we saw 2015-2016 or 1997-1998.

But a super-strong El Niño doesn’t necessarily mean super-strong impacts, like storms, flooding or heavy snow. “While stronger El Niño events increase the likelihood of El Niño-related climate anomalies, it does not imply expected impacts will emerge in all locations or be of strong intensity,” says the Climate Prediction Center.


El Niño predicted to flood both coasts: Here’s where risk is highest

What are they expecting to happen this winter?

El Niño has already been pushing Illinois toward above-normal temperatures, according to WGN Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling, and that trend appears likely to continue through the winter season.

NOAA’s temperature outlook for the next three months doesn’t looking particularly wintry. Illinois, plus the rest of the northern half of the country, is likely to a see a warmer-than-average season, according to the long-range forecast.

The precipitation outlook for December, January and February also looks pretty consistent with a typical El Niño winter: more rain for the southern half of the country, and drier weather for a few northern and Great Lakes states.

Illinois is among the states leaning toward less-than-normal precipitation between now and February.

Whether we’re in a La Niña year, El Niño year, or neither is determined by sea surface temperatures near the equator over the Pacific Ocean. The temperature of the water and air above it can shift the position of the jet stream, which in turn impacts the types of weather observed on land.

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